BALDWIN, Pa. (KDKA) — Classes within the Baldwin-Whitehall School District were canceled two days in a row due to a bus driver shortage.
Superintendent Randal Lutz said about 150 students out of 4,700 were left without a ride on Wednesday and Thursday.
The shortage has been an ongoing problem across the state for years. Lutz said it was only accelerated after the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's really at epic levels," Lutz said.
Lutz said the district has 65 buses available but only 36 are currently running due to the shortage.
"It's not that we don't want to have them running. We have vehicles sitting at the garage. We don't have bodies to put in them," Lutz said. "I'm looking at every single thing I can do, including going through the training courses myself. I don't want to be a school bus driver, but I also don't want kids stranded stranded at school."
Lutz said the district has been considering all options, including how many seats are open on the buses that are running, the routes, reload times and even starting school earlier for some grade levels.
He said in addition to getting students within its five public schools a ride, Baldwin-Whitehall also provides transportation to students district-wide, including at private and charter schools.
"School districts in Pennsylvania are required to transport is called the 10-mile rule. Maybe people don't know that, but 10 miles from every border that you have not from the center of your district but from every border," Lutz said.
He said 15 of the 36 buses running are taking students to schools miles and miles away.
"We're transporting all over the Pittsburgh region to somewhere about 50 schools. We have five of our own schools, but we transport to about 45 more," Lutz said.
He said that is adding to the shortage, making bus routes longer, and requiring double runs for some drivers. In addition, he said hiring more drivers isn't easy. He said it takes time and a lot of training.
"I've started engaging in the process even myself knowing that there's a shortage. The worst thing I can think of is having kids come to school and then they have not enough drivers to get them home and they're stranded here," Lutz said.
He said if a solution isn't found soon, there's a chance students will have to switch to full-time remote learning.
"It is very frustrating. I've been at this for about 33 years and this is the first time ever that we've had to cancel school or cancel classes for some students because of this. We know that some kids have the ability to log on remotely and teachers are doing their very best to put assignments out there, but this is not what's desirable. We know that we want to do better I just simply don't know what the solutions are," Lutz said.
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